Ruf [Release date 22.07.16]
It’s often said that an artist’s second album can be a problematical one. And while Laurence Jones has barely paused for breath to even consider a sophomore slump, he suddenly find himself cutting his fourth album in a different position of being an established artist shouldering high expectations.
His last CD ‘What’s It Gonna Be’ was a career high and to follow that he’s called on veteran blues producer Mike Vernon to give him a big live sound. The result is an exciting album on which his own edgy guitar feel is counterweighted by Roger Inniss’s funky bass lines, which cement the grooves with real authority.
‘Take Me High’ is a well balanced and pristinely recorded album with a crisp, bright feel that pays close attention to the overall flow. It’s also notable for the way Laurence explores new guitar tones. He frequently attacks his solos with a shrill tone that cuts through some of the tracks like a buzz saw.
Listen to his first solo on the opening ‘Got No Place To Go’ as he pours out all his frustration in a solo that sounds like a drill powering though a dense wooden block.
‘Take Me High’ is still essentially a song driven album, but his core trio gets plenty of opportunities to blow, on a set of songs that will surely translate effortlessly into his live set. In that respect Mike Vernon achieves the goal he set out briefly in his liner notes: “We should try to make these recordings to truly represent the way he and his exceptional band sound in concert.”
This is evidenced by ‘The Price I Pay’, on which special guest harp player Paul Jones helps transform a ponderous outing into something more energetic as he trades lick with Laurence. And it is those moments, when the band’s interplay leads to some of Laurence’s best solos, that the album really takes off.
Laurence’s writing has also matured and at his best – on the mighty reggae inflected ‘Something’s Changed’ – he matches heartfelt lyrics with an expressive warm toned solo on a deep groove.
In sharp contrast, ‘Live It Up’ is a real departure, being an urgent Mod like stomp that could be Nine Below Zero. You can also imagine it becoming a live favourite.
On the downside the heavy 70′s style, riff driven ‘Addicted To Your Love’ struggles to shake off a drone like languor, before it’s rescued by a scorching guitar solo and some thunderous distorted bass riffs. You can feel the band reaching for a big sonic splash and some variety in the sequencing, but even with concluding innovative studio trickery the hook is far too predictable to really engage us.
The title track draws on the same heavy, mid-tempo feel, with some stop-time, tension building bass parts, angst ridden vocals and another spiky guitar tone, on a bruising rock/blues outing that suggest Laurence is aiming to beef up his sound.
Both tracks don’t quite find the necessary pay-off to achieve their end goal of repositioning Laurence as a heavy duty rocker. But it’s only a matter of time before he’s in his element on the tub thumping ‘Down & Blue’ with a passionate vocal and an incendiary solo. His gnawing buzz tone guitar is bolstered by some aggressive stick work from Phil Wilson, as the rhythm section leans into the groove.
The more relaxed ‘I Will’ provides light and shade and benefits from a repeated chanted hook that draws the listener in, while ‘Think About Tomorrow’ is a well crafted radio friendly ballad with one of Laurence’s best vocals and a delicate guitar touch as the number builds impressively.
‘Take Me High’ is only a couple of songs short of being truly excellent. It’s an adventurous album, full of musical diversity and the band’s road tested abilities and just like the very best concerts it leaves you wanting more. ****
Review by Pete Feenstra
Pete Feenstra presents his Rock & Blues Show on Get Ready to ROCK! Radio every Tuesday at 19:00 GMT, and “The Pete Feenstra Feature” on Sundays at 20:00
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